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TOM DEFALCO EXPLORES MARVEL'S BRAVE NEW WORLD

After decades of there being just two main comic book universes, there was a flurry of new universes created in the 1990s. But even with the multitude of multiverses out there, it's still worth noting when one of the Big Two do it.

Over the past few weeks, Tom DeFalco has been mapping out a new universe in some of the most exclusive comic book real estate: The Marvel Universe. The new universe, dubbed "MC-2," isn't a total universe, though: It's a possible near-future for Marvel Comics, featuring the children of Spider-Man, Avengers and the Juggernaut in their own titles.

"The initial response to MC-2 has been terrific," DeFalco told the Comic Wire earlier this week. "While the advances orders weren't as high as I'd hoped they'd be, Marvel was pleased by them. Marvel even decided to offer retailers a 25 percent overship on the titles. According to the information I've received, 'Spider-Girl' #0 was an instant sell-out. 'Spider-Girl' #1 and 'Avengers Next' #1 appear to be almost sold out, and I've got my fingers crossed for 'J2' #1 (which goes on sale later this week).

"Fan reaction to the books has been great! The enthusiasm and support has been exceptional!"

But even as fans have embraced the titles, some have grumbled that they've been down this road before: Marvel Comics created the much-ballyhooed New Universe in the 1980s, bought the Ultraverse titles in the 1990s and created a possible future in their 2099 line. And none of Marvel's experiments with non-Marvel Universe titles are still in print today.

DeFalco vigorously disagrees:

"Marvel's Epic Comics was around for over 10 years. Marvel's Star Comics lasted for over five years. Marvel's 2099 lasted beyond three years. Titles like 'The 'Nam,' 'Strikeforce Moritori,' and 'Conan' all had very long and successful runs. And there are plenty more titles that had long and healthy runs!

"I'll count MC-2 as a success if it lasts as long or longer as any of the above!"

The series spun out of an issue of "What If?" (reprinted as "Spider-Girl" #0), which told the debut of Peter and Mary Jane Parker's daughter, May, as the next generation of webslinger.

"I first started thinking about this series when we learned that Mary Jane Parker was pregnant. I thought the fans would love to see Peter's adventures with his daughter. Ron Frenz and I wanted to do a story together, and I suggested the What If. Thanks to the reactions of the fans, the What If led to the creation of MC-2."

Over the next few months, fans can look forward to characters both new and familiar.

"The new Avengers take will meet the Earth Sentry, battle the original Defenders, recruit American Dream and her Dream Team, fight side by side with the Coal Tiger and eventually learn what happened to the original Avengers.

"Spider-Girl will meet a host of new villains like Crazy Eight, Spyral, and the Dragon King. She'll also run across Darkdevil, the Fantastic Five and the Venom Symbiote.

"J2 will battle the Uncanny X-People, meet the niece of Mastermind and the daughter of Wolverine, take on the incredible Hulk and begin a search for his dad. He'll also meet at least one new super villain every month!"

But don't look for any crossovers between the three titles any time soon.

"While the characters will guest-star and pop into each other's books, I have no plans for any multiple-book crossovers! I want every MC-2 to be self-contained. I think the fans are tired of crossovers."

Each of the books has tossed out a half-dozen or more concepts for this future Marvel Universe, many of them in passing. Fans who want to see more of the Fantastic Five - with Franklin Richards and the robot from the old "Fantastic Four" television show as members - or any of the other characters just need to let Marvel and DeFalco know.

"We may add another title some time next year if the fans demand it. (But only one more!) It could be the FF, or the Uncanny X-People, American Dream or any one of our other new characters. The fans will get a chance to tell us who they want."

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KELLY ON KELLY AND THE X-MEN

It was only a few years ago that Joe Kelly was a comic fan like the millions of comic fans worldwide. One meteoric ascent later, he's the writer on one of the most popular comic books in the world and an overnight superstar.

The two Marvel Comics books he writes, "X-Men" and "Deadpool" couldn't be more different: One features the anguished adventures of mutants sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them, the other is a tale of a wise-cracking antihero destined to save the universe.

Kelly told the Comic Wire this week that his sudden rise has been "sometimes more overwhelming than a love-fest, but that's just because the company is in such odd shape and everyone is scared. When things settle down, life will be good."

He's got big plans for both his books, he said, starting with the X-Men, who have just reunited with their prodigal members Nightcrawler, Colossus and Kitty Pryde, who until recently starred in their own title, "Excalibur."

"The team, as you saw in the anniversary issues, is due for a shakeup, with the cast being pared down, as well as the return of certain characters to the fold. I'm excited about the return of the Excalibur guys, they're childhood faves, and I can't wait to get to know them as a writer, and not just a fan."

His plans for "Deadpool," on the other hand, are a little more up in the air, by necessity.

"[They depend on wheter] Marvel cancels the book or not. They raised the cancellation threshold from 25 to 35,000 copies, and anticipate that Deadpool won't make the cut. If we don't, [issue] 25 will be the end, and will close out the series nicely. If it does, then next year will involve a lot of secrets being revealed about Al, T-Ray, Wade, etc."

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BUSIEK, DORKIN: NO FINANCIAL IMPACT FROM EISNERS

It's been two weeks since the Eisner Awards were given out at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The awards, although the most-prestigious in the field, don't necessarily mean as much as the Oscars or Grammys mean to recipients in the film or music industries, recent winners told the Comic Wire.

"They're always a delight, but I generally don't consider awards a big deal," said Kurt Busiek, who picked up another set of awards for his work on "Kurt Busiek's Astro City" this year. "Winning them is nice, but they don't affect doing the job."

Evan Dorkin, the creator of "Milk and Cheese" and "Dork!" and the winner of Best Short Story for a story in "Dork!," #4 has a reputation for being something of a cynic, but says that the Eisners he's won this year and in year's past mean a lot to him.

"Maybe that's unhip to say, because people are supposed to be all humble about awards and the like, but I'm very pleased with the awards I've received in the past few years. I didn't get into comics to win awards and I don't work to get nominated or anything, but I can't say it isn't a kick to win an Eisner or a Harvey. If nothing else it means somebody's paying some attention to what you're doing, someone's reading and enjoying what you do. Whether I did or didn't do the 'best' short story of the year (I don't think I did, to be honest -- as I said at the ceremony, I voted for Jaime Hernandez) -- the strip triggered enough of a response in enough people that they voted for me. That means something to me, even though I know awards are flawed and kind of crazy. Who's to say really what was 'best' -- it's all an opinion poll, a popularity contest of sorts, and in the case of the Eisners, people vote from a pre-chosen field of nominees. The awards I've won don't fool me into thinking I'm a brilliant cartoonist, but they do serve to remind me that someone out there reads my comics and likes them. And that means a hell of a lot to me."

Neither Busiek nor Dorkin thought the awards - both of them have won Eisners in previous years as well - contributed to the long-term financial future of their books.

"I've never been offered work or had a pay raise or seen a serious rise in sales because of an award," Dorkin said. "Many Eisner and Harvey winners sell terribly and continue to sell terribly after multiple awards. The industry awards are wonderful ways to recognize people and projects in the field, but they have no real muscle beyond that recognition that I can see. Although I will say Slave Labor sold a lot of copies of Dork #4 at the San Diego con after the Eisners, although most people said they just wanted to see what kind of stupid comics the idiot with the rambling Eisner speech did."

"To be honest, I don't keep" the awards, he said. "I have Will Eisner sign the backs of my awards and then I sell them at twice guide value at the con the next day. I got $22 for my last Eisner, which allowed me to eat that night. Actually, they're over on a wall above a bookshelf in the corner of my studio. The new one's downstairs somewhere, we haven't unpacked everything since San Diego. Ah, the exciting, thrill-a-minute life of a cartoonist."

(RealAudio clips of the Eisner-award winners' acceptance speeches, rambling and otherwise, are available at CBR at https://www.comicbookresources.com/eisners/)

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LIKE A ROLLING STONE: 'CONCRETE-MAKER' PAUL CHADWICK PRODUCES FABLES, ADVENTURE AND SCI-FI

Paul Chadwick is best-known for "Concrete," the critically acclaimed, thoughtful stories about a man trapped in a body of something like, yes, concrete. But although the star of his stories may be slow-moving, Chadwick himself will be zipping along over the next few months, adding to his body of work projects beyond his traditional audience, as he told the Comic Wire this week.

"I've written a series for Vertigo that John Bolton is painting. 'Gifts of the Night' is a fable about a king's son and his tutor. The boy has visions which seem to predict the future. The King starts to rely on this. The shy tutor realizes the visions come from the lessons he teaches the boy; by this means he can shape the King's decisions. But he is soon taught the harsh lesson of power: you must defend it from people more ruthless than yourself.

"The story's purposely visionary in its imagery. The metaphors people speak ('anxiety gnawed at me') are illustrated. It's spectacular art from Bolton, with a shining warm palette and influences from Klimt and Mucha."

The series is scheduled to reach comic stores in December.

"What I'm most excited about is 'The World Below,' an adventure series intended to tap the wilder parts of my imagination than 'Concrete' has allowed. It has a simple premise: Below Washington State is a cavernous world hundreds of miles in extent. It's filled with bizarre creatures and machines, and people plucked from the surface over the centuries. It's chaotic down there.

"Six men and women descend to bring back some otherworldly technology. But it isn't easy; first, they must survive," he wrote. "I'm now writing the early issues, and hope to produce 18 to 20 issues over the next two years, with the aid of an inker. It's for Dark Horse Comics."

"The next Concrete miniseries, 'Stars over Sand,' is delayed while I concentrate on 'The World Below.' It's plotted, though; a suspense story with (so to speak) an existential theme. While wandering in the wilderness, 'Concrete' is robbed of his memory by a lightning strike. The world, not to mention his body, is an utter mystery to him. The story is about his fearful journey back to humanity. Perhaps late 1999."

And in the farther future, literally and figuratively, Chadwick is "writing, but not drawing, an 'Aliens' miniseries: 'Ichneumon Summer.' Ichneumon wasps lay their eggs in living caterpillars. The larvae eat their way out after they hatch. It's just one parallel ranger Juliette Stoker finds between the aliens and the ecosystem she's defending from them: Olympic National Park in Washington State. Call it eco-horror. Four issues, artist not yet set. From Dark Horse."

OVERSTREET TO LIST FAN SITES

Think you don't have a chance of getting into Overstreet's Price Guide? Get yourself a Web page and you may just have a shot after all.

"Fans who have their own comics-related Web site can click in [at http://www.gemstonepub.com/fan/default.htm], give us their URL, and we'll list it in a brand new section of our annual guide," said Benn Ray, Price Guide editor announced in a press release this week. "As long as the site checks out to be a fan site and not a publisher or retailer site, it's eligible for the list. We're really looking for any comic sites, but the more comprehensive and more dedicated the better."

The issue, which will feature two recreated classic comic book covers by Alex "Kingdom Come," "Marvels" Ross, will be in comic book shops in April.

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